Notes from the Archives by Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist & Cataloger
In the rear second floor bedroom of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House is a small bookshelf filled with books that belonged to Anne Longfellow Pierce, the sister of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Anne grew up in the family home on Congress Street in Portland, and lived there for 87 of her 90 years. Anne eventually became the sole owner of the house, bequeathing it to the Maine Historical Society when she died in 1901.
During the fall of 2014 I catalogued these books, and along the way gleaned a little information about Anne and her family and community. Anne was a devoted member of the First Parish Church (Unitarian) just down the street from her home, and many of these books were given to the church by Anne, only to be returned many years later to the Maine Historical Society. Many contain a bookplate from the “Minister’s Library” at First Parish.
Beyond the association with the church are associations with Anne’s family. Many of the books were given to her by her younger brother Samuel Longfellow (1819-1892), a minister and hymn writer. Hymns and Meditations is inscribed: “Anne L. Pierce with love & good wishes from her brother S., Jan. 1st, 1864.” Anne’s sister Mary Longfellow Greenleaf presented to her Seven Voices of Sympathy: From the Writings of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the work of their famous brother. Lucia Wadsworth, Anne’s aunt, gave her a Bible dated 1833, when Anne was in her early 20s. A five-volume series of The Works by Jeremy Taylor belonged to Anne’s husband George Washington Pierce, a classmate and close friend of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who studied law in Stephen (Henry and Anne’s father) Longfellow’s office. Sadly George Washington Pierce died a year after inscribing into these volumes: “Geo. W. Pierce, Oct. 1834.”He was 29, having been married to Anne only three years.
There are presentation copies from friends, such as Life in the Sick-Room by Harriet Martineau, which is inscribed: “Anne L. Pierce from her friend, P. C. Jones [?], June 6th, 1844.” The may possibly be Paulina Cony Jones (1809-1845), who must have had sympathy for Anne who was caring for her father Stephen, who died in 1849, and her mother Zilpah, who died in 1851.
One book contained newspaper clippings about geraniums and potatoes, and a manuscript envelope with list of countries on it, from which one could glean more insight into the thoughts of Anne Longfellow Pierce.
Apart from Anne’s imprints on these books, many were owned by Nathaniel F. Deering. A few were used in the pews of the First Parish Church, such as A Collection of Psalms and Hymns for Christian Worship which is inscribed at the top of the title page: “John J. Brown [?], Pew 96.”
Given the connection to the First Parish Church, most of these books are religious in nature, but occasionally there are a few glimpses of life beyond the spiritual realm. The Golden Chersonese and the Way Thither by Isabella L. Bird is a surprising find. Isabella Lucy Bird was a nineteenth-century English explorer, writer, photographer and naturalist; she was the first woman to be elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. The golden Chersonese is about Bird’s travels to Malay and China. There are also a few books of poetry, a book about Lord Lyttleton, and a book about Edward the Sixth.
To learn more about these books you can search our Minerva catalog (Dewey Call Number Search) for W-L 600 through W-L 641.
COMING SOON: Books in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House | Part II: Stephen Longfellow’s Library